Overwatch does more than most when it comes to gameplay balancing
Blizzard recently announced it was giving one of Overwatch’s tank heroes, Roadhog, a major overhaul with plans for more on the way. These proposed changes center around Roadhog’s “Take A Breather” ability, which allows the character to heal himself. Since launch, the ability has involved an animation that stops all movement until complete. With the upcoming tweaks, however, Roadhog players can continue moving at full speed and also gain a 50% reduction to incoming damage during the animation. This alteration would help to solidify Blizzard’s current vision for Roadhog, which began to take shape with a damage output reduction and fire rate increase in the recent patch.
Effective gameplay balance is crucial for the long-term success of a multiplayer game. It allows a developer to keep its game from feeling stale and also show the player community that the studio is listening to the concerns of its customers. For balance to last and lead to meaningful change, developers must be willing to go further than tinkering with numerical values, as far as altering the basic mechanics of the game itself.
Mechanical changes allow developers to reassess decisions that were made during development or prior balancing that no longer fit with the current or desired shape of the game. Numerical changes, on the other hand, are useful for addressing minor issues with game balance and allow developers to tinker with the existing framework of a game. Smart developers will utilize both styles of balancing and be able to recognize which will best serve their game and its players.
Currently, Blizzard’s Roadhog changes remain theoretical, not even yet implemented in the public testing region (PTR). But this willingness to make mechanical changes is not new to Overwatch. Since the game launched, there have been mechanical changes to a few characters such as Mercy, Symmetra, and Reaper. Mercy gained a brief window of invincibility while using her resurrection ultimate, Symmetra had one ability replaced and had a shield generator option added to her ultimate, and Reaper was given a life steal passive ability when damaging enemies. All of these changes have remained in the game since being released and were successful because they boosted these characters’ utility, making them better at their intended role. It also helped to balance them against the rest of the character roster.
Overwatch illustrates the importance of a developer being willing to alter mechanics for the sake of its game, but this is not as common as it should be in the videogame industry. Destiny, for example, was balanced mainly through slight value tweaks which were often met with mixed reactions from the community. If one subclass or weapon stood out as being too powerful, Bungie would lower its effectiveness by altering damage numbers or fire rates, rather than addressing the root of the problem. Ability spam, which players can abuse by changing stat values on armor to lower cooldowns, was another issue Bungie tried to address in the same way, with damage nerfs rather than the underlying cooldown problem.
Bungie apparently agrees with the community’s complaints about abilities, because Destiny2’s ability cooldowns are the same for every class and are much longer than cooldowns in the original game. Players have to rely on their ability to outmaneuver and outshoot opponents to win now, which also makes abilities feel much more powerful and significant. While this is a great change to see in Destiny2, if Bungie had just been willing to implement a similar system in the original Destiny, it could have addressed this issue much sooner.
Waiting for a sequel to implement significant mechanical changes to a game series can and does work with games that have yearly installments such as the Call of Duty or FIFA franchises. Unfortunately for Destiny fans, Destiny is not annualized, and making a community wait three years until addressing complaints is a big ask for a developer to make.
There is unwillingness among certain developers to make significant mechanical changes to parts of their game, but Blizzard is showing that there can be benefits to doing so. Overwatch has changed both mechanics and numerical values to keep up with its community and help certain characters without hurting the effectiveness of others. Most importantly, though, Blizzard is implementing lasting and significant change that can keep a community healthy without having to make both developers and players wait for a sequel.